Hobiennale: Surface World and the Romantic Picturesque

Hobiennale Arts Festival, Hobart, 3 November - 12 November, 2017

Surface World - ANCA

We sat on the floor, huddled around flaky almond croissants for a casual ‘critical brunch’
with three of the exhibiting artists of Surface World: Tom Buckland, Nicci Haynes and Cat
Mueller.(1) The exhibition snaked through the backrooms of a soon-to- be-demolished building in Hobart CBD, with artworks installed on wallpaper, besser brick, and wooden panels. The five exhibiting Canberra artists worked across diverse practices, but were united through the shows curatorial premise of exploring the ‘surface’—examining borders, boundaries, and the potential dissolution of edges.

As visitors entered the exhibition space, they first encountered Tom Buckland’s Constellation
(2017), an unassuming white facade covered in small levers and peep holes. The work
necessitated intimacy and tactility, where the stark exterior belied the surprising dioramas
behind the surface. The interactive miniature scenes joyfully explored entropy, expansion,
technology and growth of a scientist’s experimental machine, a rotating turtle holding up the
world, and an Easter Island head watching television. I watched as visitors grabbed excitedly at each other’s arms, warmly murmuring and directing each other to favourite peep holes. On stepping away, viewers moved to the side to examine the small cardboard boxes and exposed wiring at the back of the artwork, and expressed disorientation that such mundane shoeboxes contained such complex vignettes. This surprising depth of surface contrasted with Patrick Lamour’s Bags (2016), an oil painting depicting a Russian doll arrangement of transparent plastic snap-lock bags. Both Patrick and Tom play with the surface, through opposing approaches to depth perception.

At the brunch, sitting against the backdrop of Nicci Haynes’ In my drawing costume (2017)
video and drawing stop motion animation, Nicci described the process of converting the
feeling of movement into a mark-making gesture. The movements in the performative
drawing video were accentuated and extended through long sleeves and long leg adaptations to her clothing, and then traced and extrapolated through line-drawing in the stop-motion work. With a background in movement practice, the actions seemed to cathartically ‘fall’ out of the artist, employing a body language which sits in-between choreography and collapse. Nicci described her interest in untrained dance, and the difficulty in animating her co-dancer’s movements, which were not her own embodied experiences.

The choreography was accompanied by, and responsive to, a soundtrack performed by off-
screen musicians. Nicci explained that she shared her space in Canberra with musicians,
artists and makers, in the ANCA studio complex which holds 35 studio spaces and has
operated since 1992. The conversation shifted to the close-knit and supportive nature of
Canberra’s cultural ecology, both in terms of government funding, and unofficial networks of
patronage, community and encouragement. In a city largely populated by public servants,
‘arts administration was down to a fine art.’ This recognition of the value of arts and culture
provided clear pathways out of ANU and into studios, ARIs, commercial gallery
representation, apprenticeships, and networks of collaborators and contemporaries.

Cat Mueller’s HB17 project was a beneficiary of Canberra’s robust financial and logistical
support networks, as the recipient of the CAPO Eckersley’s Materials Award. Her inclusion
in Surface World presented an opportunity to develop a site specific work, and extended the
scope of her practice by working in a non-traditional gallery space. Cat discussed the
freshness of colour and pattern relationships created in her abstract compositions, which
create tension and energy through interruptions to the frame. At HB17, Cat created her work
on uneven and disrupted surfaces for the first time, which created new ruptures and
relationships between the canvas (in this instance, the building wall) and the directly applied
artwork.

The Romantic Picturesque

Christopher Uluputu’s video works were installed in the Princess Park Battery, a dark
underground space owned by the City of Hobart which sits as a largely dis-used site. The first two screens were installed adjacent to each other, but their subjects threatened to interact by breaching the frame of the video. In the first video, a Samoan girl in a marching band costume performed repetitive looped movements of a sasa (dance), striking against her thigh and feet. The perpetual motion of her performance echoed through the Battery, as her hand connected against her body. Under a neighbouring sandstone arch, a man walked forward into the centre of the screen. The crunch of gravel under his footsteps mingled with the slap of her hand—crunch, thump, crunch, thump—until he turned and retreated to the back of the frame. As highlighted in Dilohana Lekamge’s accompanying essay, the work created a tension of threat and relief, surveillance and rejection: underpinned by gender, race and power.

The video work in the largest Battery enclave also attempted, and succeeded, in transcending the confines of the screen. The work depicted a series of karaoke performances staged in outdoor locations. Through staging, costuming and choice of song (one rendition is a version of Boney M’s disorientingly upbeat ‘Brown Girls in the Ring’), Uluputu creates charged power relations between the characters. The sound of the karaoke singing reverberated around the space, but also carried over into Christopher’s broader practice and engagement with the festival. play_station ARI’s participation in Hobiennale was partly funded by a karaoke party in Wellington, which raised money to support the delivery of Christopher’s first solo exhibition. On the last Friday of the festival, play_station held a karaoke and picnic afternoon, and invited the public to the Hobart Waterworks to perform. The scenes of Hobiennale participants performing against the golden light of the Tasmanian afternoon loosely resembled the compositions Christopher captured in his videography. These ‘picturesque’ scenes were in turn inspired by postcards of the Pacific from the 1900s, which in The Romantic Picturesque, the artist re-employs to question and destablise the exotic gaze.

Arts Management Practice

The idea for Hobiennale (HB17) was sparked in 2016, when Liam James and Grace Herbert attended a conference, representing Constance ARI (Tas).  The Constance co-directors were frustrated by the framing of artist run spaces as mobilisers for increasing the economic value of real-estate developments, a stepping stone into commercial gallery representation, and part of a narrowly defined understanding of what was considered a ‘successful’ career trajectory. In response, Liam and Grace developed HB17, as a space in which to promote the strength and diversity of ARIs, and as an opportunity to critically engage with different organisational models and methods for supporting artists and their communities. For a week in November, Hobiennale hosted eighteen Artist Run Initiatives (ARIs) from Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Canberra, Perth, Mprarntwe/Alice Springs, Brisbane and Wellington. Across twelve venues in Hobart, Clarence and Glenorchy, over one-hundred artists exhibited their work.

Both Liam and Grace’s arts practice is interlinked with their administration, curation and direction of projects. Under the pair’s leadership, Constance ARI (formerly Inflight, established in 2003) was redefined as an off-site and project based enterprise, focussing on paid opportunities for artists. The programming and operations of Constance are artist-centric in providing financial recognition and logistical, curatorial and developmental support. Grace’s own practice explores entropy, decay, urban politics and placemaking, and Liam frequently engages with the notion of Australian identity, representations of history, and questions of belonging. These ideas are evident throughout the festival, in the sites Hobiennale engaged, artist-focused funding arrangements, politically engaged content and programming discussions, and a self-critiquing mode of organisation and management.

HB17 developed concurrently with the establishment of All Conference, a network of fifteen artist-led, experimental and cross-disciplinary arts organisations from around Australia. All Conference is engaged with, and stimulating of, discussions which challenge inherited models of arts administration, the unpaid labour and exploitation of artists, and issues related to transparency, funding and inclusion.

At HB17, the participating artists and organisers continually reflected upon and discussed best-practice approaches for delivering exhibitions and programming, which was supportive of artists, and strengthened the broader cultural ecology. In addition to the eighteen exhibitions, Hobiennale included included BBQs, karaoke, a boat ride, video screenings, live music, and a pot-luck dinner. These events were not ancillary to the exhibitions, but part of an inclusive and participatory practice.  HB17 encouraged and supported the professional practice of contemporary and experimental artists, while simultaneously exploring and questioning the cultural, social, political and economic contexts in which artists practice.

For both ANCA and play_station, this artistic generosity and speculative model of practice was evident in the exhibitions, as well as in the models of community support and engagement which assisted them to participate in HB17.

 

(1) This review uses the first names of exhibiting artists and festival organisers, to reflect the values of the festival in promoting personal connections and working outside of a hierarchical structure.

Men's Nike PG3 'Paulette' [AO2607-901]

Detail of Tom Buckland 'Constellation'- image courtesy of Lucy Parakhina.JPG

Tom Buckland, Constellation, detail, 2017, Surface World ANCA, Hobiennale 2017. Image courtesy of Lucy Parakhina. 

Nikki Haynes 'In my drawing costume'- image courtesy of Lucy Parakhina .jpg

Nikki Haynes, In my drawing costume, 2017, Surface World ANCA, Hobiennale 2017. Image courtesy of Lucy Parakhina. 

Install image of Tom Buckland's 'Constellation' and Nicci Haynes 'In my Drawing Costume' - image courtesy of Lucy Parakhina.jpg

Surface World ANCA, Installation view, Hobiennale 2017. Image courtesy of Lucy Parakhina. 

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Christopher Uluputu, The Romantic Picturesque, 2017, Video Still. 

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Christopher Uluputu, The Romantic Picturesque, 2017, Video Still. 

video still by Llewellyn Millhouse-040.jpg

Christopher Uluputu, The Romantic Picturesque, 2017, Installation view, Princes Park Battery, Hobiennale 2017. 

Llewellyn Millhouse

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Christopher Uluputu, The Romantic Picturesque, 2017, Video Still.

Miriam McGarry is a researcher and writer, based in Hobart.